What is the role of the blood-brain barrier in the pathogenesis of meningitis?

Updated: Jul 16, 2019
  • Author: Rodrigo Hasbun, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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Answer

The brain is naturally protected from the body’s immune system by the barrier that the meninges create between the bloodstream and the brain. Normally, this protection is an advantage because the barrier prevents the immune system from attacking the brain. However, in meningitis, the blood-brain barrier can become disrupted; once bacteria or other organisms have found their way to the brain, they are somewhat isolated from the immune system and can spread.

When the body tries to fight the infection, the problem can worsen; blood vessels become leaky and allow fluid, WBCs, and other infection-fighting particles to enter the meninges and brain. This process, in turn, causes brain swelling and can eventually result in decreasing blood flow to parts of the brain, worsening the symptoms of infection. [3]


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